Disrupting Harm findings reveal new and crucial insights into online child sexual exploitation and abuse 

DH insight

Disrupting Harm is a large-scale research project that generates evidence to understand the scope and nature of online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) at national level, and how existing national child protection systems are responding to this fast growing form of violence against children.

The findings of the project are now out – and they reveal crucial insights on online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Disrupting Harm (DH) was initiated with a US$7 million investment from the Safe Online Initiative at End Violence in 2019. Implemented by ECPAT International, INTERPOL and UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti, the holistic and multi-country research project has just completed its first phase in 13 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. This project adopts an innovative multi-sector approach and conducts high-quality research to generate comprehensive evidence on how digital technology may facilitate the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and how to build a more robust national response. 

“Safe Online is proud to be part of this ground-breaking research project. Disrupting Harm has generated unique insights and actionable data providing a detailed, data-driven pathway for government and other stakeholders to strengthen prevention and response to online sexual abuse. DH’s appeal is also in the fact that it has created a blueprint approach and methodology for related areas beyond online CSEA.”, says Marija Manojlovic, Safe Online Director at End Violence. 

Safe Online is proud to be part of this ground-breaking research project.

 Marija Manojlovic, Safe Online Director at End Violence. 

Here’s what we are learning about online child sexual exploitation and abuse:

  • Disrupting Harm data estimates that millions of children were subjected to online child sexual exploitation and abuse across the 13 DH countries in 2020 alone. The proportions of children subjected to OCSEA in the past year varied from 1% in Viet Nam to 20% of children in the Philippines. In line with other research on violence against children, these estimates are expected to be under reported. 

  • In almost all 13 countries, offenders of OCSEA were more likely to be someone the child already knows in person (on average accounting for 60% of cases).

  • Approximately one in three children did not disclose their abuse to anyone.2 Nearly half of those children said it was because they did not know where to go or who to tell. 

  • Children are not reporting their experiences of OCSEA through formal channels. On average, only 3% of OCSEA victims across the 13 countries called a helpline for support. Similarly, only 3% contacted the police. 

  • Most children who experience OCSEA have also experienced sexual violence in-person. 

  • Whether or not a child has experienced in-person violence, experiencing OCSEA further increases the risk of mental health problems.

The success of this innovative project has led to its expansion to an additional 11 countries in 3 new regions with a second investment for US $ 7 million to continue building the robust evidence base needed to inform future efforts to tackle this urgent issue. 

The country-level data and evidence from DH allow stakeholders to make informed decisions about strengthening their national prevention and response strategies. It also provides a roadmap tailored to each country's needs for key actors to follow and strengthen their investments and actions to tackle the issue.

Learn more about the project, findings and country reports.